Understanding Music
Last updated: 06.08.17
Printed: 1993 Author: Antony Hopkins
Publisher: Oxford University Press ISBN: 019521028X
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Amazon Review
He missed the point!, October 20, 2001
Reviewer: Jacques COULARDEAU from OLLIERGUES France
« The language ... was Latin, and the normal metre of the Latin verse was a triple metre known as tempus perfectum, consisting of trochees (long-short) and iambs (short-long) ... However, such a concept as 3/2 was not even thought of, the natural metre of the verse making so rigid a constraint unnecessary. What was taken into consideration was a form of musical symbolism by which the religious concept if the Trinity came to be associated with a triple metre ; the time-signature for such a rhythm was shown not as 3/2 but as a perfect circle, itself a symbol of perfection. » (p. 14-15). When a book starts with such an assertion, I have the tendency to discard it at once, because this is simply absurd, and it is supported by no proof, no evidence. All we know is that music was duple up to J.S. Bach who introduced a heavy triple bourrée that Mozart will make light, thus inventing the antecedent or precursor of the waltz. Popular dances were triple but they were NOT in Latin. Church music was duple : check for example the Old Hall Manuscript or Willam Byrd. The latter uses the polyphony of his compositions (in Latin) to make it turn around and around, by a permanent shifting from the bass to the alto and down again to the bass via the soprano and the tenor, and back to the alto, or the other way round. To make that music dance around, they used something that had nothing to do with metre.I do not say that Antony Hopkins's book is not interesting, but I cannot go beyond such an unfounded remark that kind of make fun of the concept of the Trinity which is definitely not that trite. What he says might be true with a popular dance stuck with that particular rhythm. But I would accept it as triple when I am shown the decomposition of the longer note into two shorter notes. This is not possible with Latin where the stressed syllable, in spoken language, is longer than the unstressed syllable. But the whole problem is that all other stressed languages of the Germanic family or even the romance family, oppose, naturally, stressed and unstressed syllables, not in length but only in emphasis. That will produce the famous iambic pentameter, in spite of the French or Norman influence, as for English. French will move towards a syllable-based metre and not a stress-based metre like English, or, before, Anglo-Saxon.This fundamental binary rhythm will be dominant in music up to Bach, except in popular music, and in English poetry forever. In French poetry they invented a line of four groups of three syllables, hence basically triple, but because French was not a stress-based language. And that was achieved only in the 17th century.An interesting book, though, in spite of its objective to speak to the non-learned in music. That too is a drawback. People have to - if they want to enter the syntax of music, hence to understand the causes of their pleasure (and no one has to understand why they like a piece of music to like it) - break themselves into the standard language of music criticism. The more they « understand » the nuances, the details, and the proper language for them, the more they can communicate with other people and enhance their own pleasure by sharing it.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.